Council wants more oversight of ABIA hotel operator, other local government corporations

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The city-owned Hilton Hotel at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is operated by a quasi-government corporation that several city council members want a magnifying glass on.

Austin Bergstrom Landhost Enterprises, Inc., or “ABLE” was created to finance the purchase, rehabilitation, operation and management of the hotel. It has a council-appointed board of directors.

But District 7’s Leslie Pool wants more accountability of ABLE and other local government corporations that are separate from city departments.

“We birth them, and we give them their guiding principles, their rules and their mission. And we say go do good,” said Pool.

She said this means regular reporting to city council’s Audit and Finance Committee, which usually meets monthly.

One example prompting council members’ concerns was ABLE’s employment of Greg Milligan. City records show for years ABLE has paid Harney Partners for consulting work. Milligan is executive vice president, according to the company’s website.

But Milligan also sat on ABLE’s Board of Directors and served as board chair from 2016 to early 2021. He was replaced on the Board of Directors in January, according to city records.

“I wish I’d known about it earlier, and I don’t feel too good about it,” said Pool.

In audio from ABLE’s February 2020 meeting, you can hear board members vote on a renewal of Milligan’s contract. You can’t hear Milligan vote one way or the other, but he is presiding over the meeting.

City documents also say: “it is apparent from the audio recordings that Mr. Greg Milligan did not vote on this item, nor did he verbally abstain or recuse from the vote.”

According to a council report, Austin Aviation staff said it was consulting city attorneys about any formal policies for when members of the ABLE Board of Directors would be required to recuse themselves from a vote.

Pool says ABLE’s by-laws allowed this conflict of interest, but council plans on amending them.

“Protocols like that are important to ensuring community trust, and frankly, folks in that meeting ought to have known better,” she said.

ABLE is seeking a loan from city council to pay hotel-related bills following a tough pandemic year. The hotel operator owes money to several entities, including $60,000 to Milligan.

We called Milligan, but he declined to answer questions over the phone. He had not yet responded to emails late Thursday evening.

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